Viking graves in Norway contain a grisly tribute: slaves who were beheaded and buried along with their masters, new research suggests.
In Flakstad, Norway, remains from 10 ancient people were buried in multiple graves, with two to three bodies in some graves and some bodies decapitated. Now, an analysis reveals the beheaded victims ate a very different diet from the people with whom they were buried.
"We propose that the people buried in double and triple burials might have come from very different strata of society, and that slaves could have been offered as grave gifts in these burials," study co-author Elise Naumann, an archaeologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, wrote in an email.
From about the 790s until about A.D. 1100, the Vikings were fierce, sea-faring raiders and often took slaves as booty. But this vicious lifestyle wasn't a full-time job. In everyday life, many Vikings were actually farmers, relying on slaves, or thralls, for agricultural work. Though some thralls were treated well, many were forced to endure backbreaking physical labor, Naumann said. Women were often used as sex slaves, and any children who resulted could either be considered the master's children or treated as slaves themselves. (Fierce Fighters: 7 Secrets of Viking Seamen)
The Viking burials were first discovered in the early 1980s, but only partially excavated at the time. The ancient graves were partly damaged by modern farming and contained just a few grave artifacts, such as an amber bead, some animal bones and a few knives. At the time, archaeologists noticed that four of the bodies were beheaded whereas the rest were intact.
That led many to conclude that the decapitated bodies were those of slaves sacrificed and buried with their masters.